The Muslim Brotherhood and the Gulf: Turbulent ties
Saudi Arabia’s opposition to the use of religion for perceived political purposes became evident with the local authorities refusing to give the Brotherhood a chance to launch a branch or set its agenda in the country.
King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz reportedly explained the refusal by telling them that all Saudis were Muslims and as such they did not need an organisation to spread Islamic ideology.
The Brotherhood understood the message and stuck to its limits in terms of influence amid local aversion to their ideology. However, after several years, they seemed to have trespassed the limits, sparking the anger of the late Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz, the interior minister, who in 2002, became highly critical of their attitudes and vocalised his suspicion of their tendency to “politicise Islam for self-serving purposes”.
“I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that the root of all our problems and issues is the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said in an interview with Kuwaiti daily Al Siyassah. “When matters became extremely difficult for them and gallows were readied for them in their home countries, they came to the [Saudi] kingdom that looked after them, took care of them, preserved their dignity and made them feel safe. After some time, they wanted to work and we helped them by opening the schools and the universities, but they unfortunately revived their past links and started recruiting people and founding movements. They turned against the kingdom. They should not have hurt the kingdom. If they wanted to say something, they should have uttered abroad and not in the country that honoured them,” he said.
In Kuwait, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to form its first offshoot in 1947 by Abdul Al Aziz Al Mutawa who built on his special ties with Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, to launch the Islamic Irshad Society. The offshoot in Kuwait, officially recognised in 1952, was careful not to use the term “Ikhwan” (Brotherhood) to avoid social problems.
It was renamed the Society for Social Islah (reform) in 1962, one year after Kuwait’s independence. The society was able since the 1960s to extend its presence in all sectors of Kuwaiti society and to influence mainly the education sector and charity work. It became deeply entrenched socially and politically in the country and its members who reached parliament and other sources of power pushed hard for the application of Islamic law. Because of its wealth, it was able to offer substantial financial support to Islamic groups in Egypt and elsewhere.
In Bahrain, the first contact between the Muslim Brotherhood and Bahrainis was in the early 1940s when the ideology was brought to the island country and nurtured in the Students’ Club, later renamed Al Islah Society.
Egyptian teachers based in Bahrain largely contributed to the expansion of the club and to the spread of the ideology, mainly in Muharraq, the country’s second largest city.
However, the Brotherhood members soon had their first clashes with pan-Arab nationalists supporting their nemesis Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser in 1954, and again in 1956. Most Bahrainis sided with the pan-Arabists while the Brotherhood kept a low profile. In the late 1970s, leftist movements started to recede and the Muslim Brotherhood was able to re-emerge to attract new adherents thanks mainly to an aggressive campaign based on tapes and books.